Happy Devil’s Night, 2016: A THIEF IN THE NIGHT (1972), A DISTANT THUNDER (1978), IMAGE OF THE BEAST (1981), & THE PRODIGAL PLANET (1983)

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Poor Patty. She just can’t seem to accept Jesus Christ into her heart. She also can’t seem to accept the Mark of the Beast. She is a wishy-washy kind of gal, it seems, and that can only end badly.

Perhaps she is sick of the two-party system and seeks a third way?

Nope. No chance…

Patty is screwed.

A THIEF IN THE NIGHT was the first Evangelical Christian horror film. Wikipedia claims it has been seen by an estimated 300 million people around the world. I have no idea how that figure was calculated…I am too lazy to check Wikipedia’s sources.

A THIEF IN THE NIGHT is by no means the first Christian horror film. Christianity and the horror genre have been entwined since the early days of cinema (and literature…and art). Christianity is, in fact, the source (or at least the cultural champion) of the most enduring horror tropes in Western culture (whether it be the image of stereotypical monsters, apocalyptic end times, the rituals of the occult magician, or the popular representations of paganism). Any fan of the horror genre, in general, owes Christianity a favor.

In spite of often placing a philosophical emphasis on the concept of redemption, Christianity has traditionally maintained a strong pessimistic streak and has never looked away, for long, from the horrors of the world. Whether or not it promotes the ideal methods for addressing these horrors is a complex issue. Christian doctrines and beliefs are diverse. I personally appreciate much of the psychological and philosophical underpinnings of various Christian belief systems. Nonetheless, any worldview, however right-headed or well constructed, becomes corrupt and dangerous when it has no regard for the paradoxes and ambiguities that any functioning ethical system must incorporate and address. By succumbing to this kind of dogmatism, Christianity has often also created the horrors it then manages, highlights, and exploits.

Evangelical Christianity has been particularly guilty, I’m afraid, of promoting a dogmatic, paranoid, and frightening vision of the world and it makes perfect sense that it would be Evangelical Christians responsible for the first truly contemporary Christian horror film series (made without concession to the Medieval Catholic horror narratives and aesthetics long since secularized.) Because of the way it broke free from traditions, A THIEF IN THE NIGHT could be considered Christianity’s TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, even if Mel Gibson’s THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST is a more obvious homage to that classic horror film.

For the non-believer, A THIEF IN THE NIGHT and its three sequels are horrifying for a different reason than their creators intended. They could also be considered laughable. However, considering that the kind of beliefs that these films represent have a powerful influence upon people and governments all over the world, I would advise that non-believers stifle their giggles. No matter what belief system or religion you embrace, you must contend with the fact that a very large population of people – quite possibly your friends, family, and neighbors – actually live in the world that these films depict. It may be a fiction, but it is a fiction made flesh…and you may be the bad guy in their story.

Considering this reality, you may find yourself drawn to the simple solace of “taking sides” in the great, apocalyptic battle that some Christians insist upon. You may decide to embrace the evocative power of an imaginary devil if, indeed, those who demonize you have already cast you in that archetypal role. I would not blame you.

On the other hand, you may take on the role of a “savior,” or act in service of an imagined redemption, and seek to wipe the world clean of whatever evil you have identified and can wrestle to the ground.

Personally, I take no side in any battle with ideological conviction. I am simply saddened, and simultaneously amused, by the war of ideas. I enter into it only out of need for human connection as, after all, it is in conflict that humans often interact most intimately without self-restraint. There is no redemption there, but there is the joy of being human with other humans: enmeshed in the complex network of always compromised, always temporary moments of triumph and failure. This is the kingdom rightfully ruled by the King of The World, whether that king be depicted as a God or a Beast…

Perhaps I am wrong in taking this position. Perhaps, like poor Patty in A THIEF IN THE NIGHT and its sequels, I will be condemned and tortured for my pretentious ambivalent pose. Perhaps I am already in Hell or heading there fast…

So be it. I love things the way they are…no matter how horrible they may be.
That’s the “sin” one indulges in and embraces as a horror movie fan.
Horror movie fans always enjoy the ride even while they are screaming.
It’s not masochism. It’s not escapism. It’s not bad faith. It’s not Taoism.
It’s the way we were born.

We have our father’s eyes…

A THIEF IN THE NIGHT (1972):

A DISTANT THUNDER (1978):

IMAGE OF THE BEAST (1981):


THE PRODIGAL PLANET (1983):

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This entry was posted in 1970s horror, 1980s horror, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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